Georgetown, Day 1: Food, glorious food, where are you??
Georgetown Travel Blog› entry 1 of 3 › view all entries
I went to Penang with my friend and fellow TB, Kim (shuwei) after we decided that we needed a break from work (she more than me, as I was in Bali just over a month ago!!).
We booked a flight and hotel package on GoHoliday.com, the travel arm of budget airliner, AirAsia, and got a good deal for MYR206 per person. Our flight was to leave the LCCT in KL International Airport at 1340hrs, but we left KL Sentral on the 1030am shuttle service to make sure we made it on time to check in. After checking in my bag and paying an additional MYR10 for doing so, we headed to Asian Kitchen, a self service 24-hour diner to have brunch, and already there were dramas!
I got us a table and made Kim go on ahead to get her lunch of Nasi Lemak (which is rice cooked in coconut milk and served with fried dried anchovies, fried peanuts, sliced cucumber, half a boiled egg and spicy chilly gravy) with chicken.
So we finish our brunch and head straight to the gate with half an hour to spare, before we hear the boarding call. We didn't see many passengers line up for this flight, and it was then that we realised that we wasted RM15 for express boarding. Ah well, we were still first in line and once we got on the plane, choose the emergency exit row of seats and got comfortable before takeoff.
Hardly 40 minutes later, we touch down in Penang at the Bayan Lepas International Airport, and pay MYR38 at the taxi/airport limo counter to get our cab to Hotel Mingood, the hotel that we booked to stay at for the next two nights. Twenty minutes later, we arrive at the hotel and are warmly welcomed by Desmond and Emerin, the front office managers.
So we get to our room on the 2nd floor, and took a quick "tour" of the bathroom and the amenities that were provided. Nothing flashy, nothing grand, but it was definitely clean and a little musky as all air-conditioned rooms are when the air-conditioning is turned off, but that was fixable. We then sat on our beds and discussed our itinerary for the next two days, with the help of a bunch of flyers we picked up at the front desk. Our first business of the day was to look for a chendol stall to cool ourselves down with a bowl of cold, sweet n' savoury bowl of chendol.
For those of you scratching you heads, chendol is a Penang specialty dessert which consists of green, wormy-like short noodles made of rice flour, and kidney beans which swim in a bowl of cold coconut milk - which is naturally savoury, and a tiny amount of palm sugar, giving it a light brown, creamy sweet soup like consistency. It's description is alien, to say the least, but once you taste a spoonful, you'll finish the whole bowl in minutes, though that's not possible or you'll suffer from brain freeze!! :P Savor every bite, taste every morsel and before you know it, you'll see the bottom of your plastic red bowl that chendol is traditionally served in! Yummy!!
So it was off to our hunt for a chendol stand, or stall, as we call it. But to make it easier, we check with Arthur (whom we later found out was the BOSS of the hotel) who was seated behind the front desk, if he knew where we could go get our sweet fix. The directions sounded easy enough: head out left, and take the second junction to the right, walk straight ahead until you see a crowd of people spilling out from one the lanes on the left, where you'll find two chendol stands.
Following his instructions, we cross one street and head right once we reached the "second junction", where we walked, and kept walking, but only found one lane on our left, which didn't looked like there was crowd of chendol addicts anywhere to be found! Instead, we walk pass until we reach a junction and turn left, then we continued walking until we noticed a busy street, crossed that street and walked to our right, where we finally reached the right lane and true enough, there were two chendol stands, across from each other, with a constant stream of customers stopping to buy their favorite afternoon dessert. We find a table with mini stools where we sat and ordered ours. Ahh... I finally learned why eating a local favorite in its place of 'birth' is always better than the imitation elsewhere: it was dreamy! Not as sweet as the diabetes-inducing bowls we'd have in KL or in our own neighborhood. It was so good that I was tempted to have a second helping, but I was already a little backed up, with the two sausage mcmuffins and nasi lemak I had for breakfast and brunch! I felt as green as the chendol noodles!
So we thought a bit of a walk would do some good, and decided to ask around for a location where a Ramadan bazaar was being held. The Ramadan bazaar is held annually during the fasting month of Ramadan for Muslims, where certain main streets in part of town or a neighborhood are turned into food malls for Muslims to get their meals to break fast every evening from 5pm to 630pm. The food bazaar is a big hit with other non-Muslims who take the opportunity to savor true Malay cuisine that you can't otherwise find in a regular Malay restaurant. We were told there was to be one such bazaar near KOMTAR, or the Tun Abdul Razak, once the tallest building in Malaysia.
Named after the country's third prime minister, KOMTAR is the iconic symbol in Penang and now a shadow of its former self. It is still in operation and houses mainly government and commercial offices, as well as retail stores, though there aren't as many businesses as the aging building has not been maintained in a long time and damage has started setting in. It, however, still serves as the compass for many local and foreign travellers navigating their way around Georgetown.
Kim and I take the pedestrian bridge to cross the busy intersection heading to the building, but we reached the location, we find what was the bazaar to be nothing more than a few stalls selling the usual daily Malaysian fare, cooked Malay style. Disappointed, we head back the way we came and this time walked on the other side of Penang St and headed for our hotel. I was ready to pass out at this time as I had busted my knee just days before the trip and found it a right struggle to walk. So it was a relief to finally reach our hotel, where we briefly "passed out" on our respective beds before getting ready for dinner.
At 8pm, we headed out to dinner, but before that, sought the recommendation of Emerin, the lovely front desk manager who looked to be in her 60s, and was a walking Penang encyclopedia. She encouraged us to go to the Northam Beach Cafe, which was an al-fresco dining location that was way cleaner than the street hawkers one would usually encounter in Penang and most places around Malaysia. We paid MYR24 to our cabbie for the evening, Mr Wang, to take us there and collect us after 90 minutes.
The Northam Beach Cafe was located by the ocean, and there were numerous stalls, all neatly located next to each other in a row, with each one serving local Penang favorites as well as stalls serving pastas, pies, Mexican and Filipino food! A little surprised at first, but we soon realised the international variety was to cater possibly to the guests of the two 4-star hotels that were located just across the street.
After walking around trying to figure out what to eat, we decide to indulge in Penang originals - Char Kuey Teow (fried flat rice noodles), Fried Oysters with omellette and Fruit Rojak (a fruit salad served with flour crackers and a sweet/sour thick sauce, garnished with sesame seeds).
There is nothing like having a meal in it's own "home"! Sure, we could have the same dishes in KL, but they never really taste as good, and now, won't ever taste as good as enjoying those rice noodles in Penang. The people of Penang are true experts when it comes to their signature dishes and how they're prepared and served.
After stuffing ourselves silly, we could already feel the effects of gluttony! We needed to roll ourselves out to the entrance to wait for our cab driver. And we finally reached the hotel, had to roll around to wash up for bed after two hours of staying stationary!! What a challenge that was. Never again, we swore! But oh, how to resist this food haven when there was tomorrow to look forward to!